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Czech zoo plans to send rare northern white rhinoceroses to the wild in Africa

December 18, 2009 |  9:09 pm

Rhino

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Four rare northern white rhinos will be moved from a Czech zoo to Africa to live in the wild in an attempt to save the species from being wiped out, officials said Wednesday.

Two male rhinos called Sudan and Suni and two female rhinos called Najin and Fatu will be taken from the Dvur Kralove Zoo to Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday, zoo spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova said.

They will live on the Kenyan Ol Pejeta conservation area, where zoo authorities hope that it will be easier for them to breed than in captivity.

Four other northern white rhinos were living in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Garamba National Park, but they have not been seen since August 2006. They were the last remaining northern white rhinos in the wild.

Only eight white rhinos live in captivity -- six in Dvur Kralove and two in San Diego.

The Czech zoo's tradition of taking care of white rhinos dates to the mid-1970s, when the first of them, two males and four females, arrived from Africa.

The 36-year-old Sudan was one of them. Four white rhinos have been born in the zoo since, in what zoo officials call "a small miracle."

But Fatu, born June 29, 2000, to Najin, 20, was the last one, and despite efforts, including repeated artificial insemination, no white rhino has been born there since.

"The situation [for the species] is absolutely critical," Mysliveckova said.

Three of the four had to have their horns shortened ahead of the flight to prevent possible damage that could put the animals under stress, she said, adding the horns were expected to grow back again.

The move has not delighted everyone, and the nongovernmental organization Safari Archa 2007 planned to hold a protest rally in the regional city of Hradec Kralove on Wednesday.

Roman Komeda of the organization said the transport posed "a huge risk" for the rhinos. He said the plan was "incompetent" and that its purpose made "no sense" because there were no other white rhinos in the Kenyan park and the white rhinos could breed with only southern white rhinos living there.

He said his organization has asked a court to stop the move.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Sudan, one of the rhinos, enters a transport box on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Cizek / AFP/Getty Images

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